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Deborah Kelly Featured

9:58am EDT December 20, 2002
When Deborah Kelly, president of Preferred Staffing Inc., got into the staffing business in 1992, she hadn't given much thought to a board of advisers.

Kelly got started by taking over a staffing business that a friend had started and that she had worked for part-time. The owner decided to retire, and while still a full-time employee with Westinghouse at the time, Kelly operated the staffing business out of her home in her off hours, as a single mother with two young children at home.

With that kind of work ethic, it's obvious that Kelly isn't one to shun a challenge, but like a lot of entrepreneurs, she found that while she understood her industry, the business side of things didn't come as easily.

By 1998, Kelly had moved into an office outside her home. The business had grown, and she found herself bogged down in the day-to-day issues of running her business and glossing over the big picture issues. Then a friend mentioned PowerLink, a nonprofit organization that provides advisory boards to women-owned businesses to provide strategic advice and focus.

The PowerLink board, comprised of a lawyer, an HR professional, a former staffing agency owner and a marketing expert, advised Kelly for a year. At their recommendation, she installed an information system to manage her business and formulated a targeted marketing campaign to replace her less focused efforts.

During the late 1990s, the staffing business, including Preferred Staffing, benefited from a strong economy. The last two years have been more of a struggle, says Kelly, but she says having the PowerLink board helped strengthen her 40-employee company and ease it through the leaner times. Without that experience, she says, "it probably would have been even more difficult."

SBN sat down with Kelly to talk about her experiences with PowerLink.

How did you hear about PowerLink?

A good friend of mine was working with a PowerLink board. He was an adviser with PowerLink and he asked me if I would be interested. I filled out the application and was accepted.

Why did you feel compelled to do it?

I thought it would be a great opportunity to pick the brains of people in different fields, to help guide me since I had no prior experience running a business, and just to really make me take a hard look at numbers and things like that.

You really get stuck in the day-to-day operations. You forget to find out if you're making money or not. It was a good process, and after the whole year, I decided to get an up-to-date automated system that does both front and back office. Prior to that, I just had a DOS system that did the payroll, but I didn't have anything to run the front office part of the business.

That was a significant investment, but it was worth it.

What else did you learn?

To be more aware of cash flow and make sure that I stay on top of receivables, and some public relations stuff -- billboards, how to follow through with a campaign, send a postcard, keep track of each one and see which produces results. Before that, it wasn't very coordinated. Now we usually do a postcard, follow up with a letter, then make a personal visit if they're interested.

How can a PowerLink board help a business owner?

I think it can really open their eyes. I know myself, I can get so caught up in the day-to-day little issues, problems I have to solve.

It's just nice to sit down with professionals in different arenas and get their ideas and thoughts and try to implement them and remember that you need to do that, as opposed to putting out fires all day long. You set a goal, then set objectives to meet the goal, then brainstorm around the table to figure out how to accomplish them.

What puts teeth in the recommendations?

First, they're the right thing to do. It's just a little bit of extra work, and I know that I needed that pressure to do it. That's probably the same for most, especially women business owners, who often have families at home.

Why did you feel compelled to do it?

I thought it would be a great opportunity to pick the brains of people in different fields, to help guide me since I had no prior experience running a business, and just to really make me take a hard look at numbers and things like that.

You really get stuck in the day-to-day operations. You forget to find out if you're making money or not. It was a good process, and after the whole year, I decided to get an up-to-date automated system that does both front and back office. How to reach: Preferred Staffing Inc., www.temppreferred.com; PowerLink, www.e-magnify.com